Michael Linton's Bayeux Tapestry: 1066 - A Medieval Mosaic and Puzzles
QUEENS OF ENGLAND
BEFORE THE NORMAN CONQUEST.
TAGGARD & THOMPSON,
This electronic edition
was prepared by
Michael A. Linton, 2007
QUEEN OF MEROWALD.
Lady Eva—Marriage with the son of Penda—The Queen takes the veil in her husband Merowald's life—She founds the Abbey of Minstre, to atone for the murder of her brothers by Egbert—"The Deer's course"—Pious ruse—Fate of Thunor the murderer—The humility of Mildred—Leobgitha's verses—Gold and silver ink—The Abbess Eadburga—The letters of St. Boniface to the pious Abbess—The Danes—Mildgitha retires to Estrey—Estrey Court—The sepulchres of the murdered princes there—Mildburga and her father—Their tombs in the Abbey of Wenlock.
DOMPNEVA, or Domneva, appears to be a Roman abbreviation of Lady Eva, or Domina Eva, [Written indiscriminately, Dumnona, Dompnena, Dormenilda, and Dormengylda.] of which an instance occurs in the name of Julia Domna, wife of Severus. Ermenburga, Eva, or Dompneva, are used indiscriminately for the Queen of Merowald, son of Penda, in our histories: as there is another Ermenburga, Queen of Egfrid, this abbreviation is adopted to distinguish her from others. Ermenred Clito, King of Kent, had by his wife Oslave, daughter of King Anna, another daughter besides Dompneva, who was called likewise Ermenburga, [Ebba or Eaba, Eva or Gaffe, as the name is spelt indifferently in the same Saxon manuscript; it is sometimes written Eadburge, Idaburga, and Elburg; St Ebba is also at times converted into St. Tabbs.—Butler.] and one called Eormengitha, both of whom became nuns: his sons were called Ethelred and Ethelbright. [Speed, Rapin.]
Merowald, who was destined to marry Domneva, was King of Herefordshire, or the West Hecanas, [Lappenberg's Anglo-Saxons.] over which he had reigned three years. Both this princess and her cousin Ermenilda seem to have been given by their parents in marriage to the Mercian princes, sons of Penda, in the hope of securing a friendship between that royal house and the East Anglian.
At this period the kingdom of Kent had arrived at the highest pinnacle of greatness: the glorious Ethelbert and his amiable consort had transmitted their virtues to their descendants. The alliance of the royal family of Kent was sought with avidity by the other princes of the Heptarchy. It has been seen that the Princess Enfleda had married Oswy of Northumberland, and Etheldreda, the sister of Sexburga and Oslave, became the wife of Egfrid. Domneva and Ermenilda united the kingdoms of East Anglia, Kent, and Mercia. These matrimonial alliances are, in fact, a key by which alone the history of the Saxon Heptarchy can be properly understood.
In spite, however, of her marriage, and, it is said, by the consent of her husband, Queen Domneva assumed the religious veil: [Brit Sancta.] it appears that she became Abbess of Minstre, in Thanet, about the year 670, King Merowald being yet upon the throne. The circumstances which occasioned the erection of this famous monastery are remarkable; and as Domneva was herself the foundress and first abbess, they belong especially to her history.
The two brothers of Queen Domneva had been committed by their dying father, Ermenred, to the care of their uncle Ercombert, King of Kent, who, as long as he lived, fulfilled the sacred trust reposed in him with the honour which might have been expected from so excellent a prince; but when he died, his power, and with it the guardianship of the young Ethelred and Ethelbert, who were still in their minority, devolved on his son Egbert, who regarded these princes, his cousins, as dangerous rivals to his power. He is accused of having employed a Thane, named Thunor, to put the orphans to death; [Sax. Chron., Sim. Dunelm.] and to prevent discovery of the crime, directed that their bodies should be interred beneath the royal throne in the palace of Estry, in Thanet, the place where they were usually residing under his protection. Heaven, however, would not permit such a crime to escape detection, nor suffer Egbert to pursue in security his guilty career. It is related that a miraculous light, falling on the spot where the bodies of the ill-fated brothers had been deposited by their murderer, revealed their holy relics; and the alarmed monarch was induced, by the united representations of St. Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury, and St. Adrian, Abbot of St. Augustine's, whose councils were seconded by the clamours of the people, to send into Mercia to seek pardon of Domneva, Queen of Merowald, the sister of his victims, for the heinous crime he either perpetrated or permitted, and to offer to indemnify her for their loss by the usual Weregild, or compensation for murder. [Butler.]
The custom of paying a blood-fine, called Weregild or Manbot, did not belong solely to the Saxons Compositions for murder existed among the Jews, and also the Greeks, as is apparent from Nestor's speech to Achilles, in the Iliad; and even till a recent period among the natives of Ireland the same custom prevailed, the price of a man's head being termed by them his eric. [Sir John Davies.] Spencer, in his "View of the State of Ireland," writes thus of these cases of composition for murder: "The Brehon, that is, their judge, will compound between the murderer and the friends of the party murdered which prosecute the action, that the malefactor shall give to them, or to the child or wife of him that is slain, a recompense, which they call an Eriach; by which vile law of theirs many murders amongst them are made up and smothered. And this judge being, as he is called, the Lord's Brehon, adjudgeth, for the most part, a better share unto his lord, or the head of that sept (or family), and also unto himself for his judgment, a greater portion, than unto the plaintiffs or parties grieved."
On the arrival of Queen Domneva in Kent, Egbert appeared before her in a very sorrowful manner, imploring her pardon, and laying before her a great many rich presents. The Queen generously pardoned her royal cousin, but declined accepting any of his offerings: her request to him was, that he would grant her a place "in Tenet," where she might build a monastery in memory of her two brothers, with a competent maintenance, in which she might, with the virgins devoted to God and obliged to her, pray to the Lord to pardon and forgive the King for their murder. Egbert assenting, asked the Queen "how much land she desired to have?" who replied, "only as much as my deer can run over at one course." This being accorded, the animal was let loose at a place called Westgate, in presence of the King, and many of his nobles and people, who all crowded towards the spot where the deer was led in expectation of the event. Among the spectators was Thunor, the King's agent, and the real murderer of the Princes, who cried out that Domneva was a witch, and the King a fool for suffering so noble and fruitful a soil to be taken from him by the decision of a brute. Whilst the King and others around him were diverted with seeing the deer run, "this man endeavoured to put her by, with riding across and meeting her." While thus endeavouring to defeat the pious object of Domneva, the wrath of God fell on him; for, as some say, "the earth opened and swallowed him," or, as we may with greater credibility receive it, "a fall from his horse" occasioned his death; the spot being ever after called "Thunor's Leap," while the place where he was buried yet bears the name of this wretched man. At the sight of the signal judgment which had fallen on Thunor, the King is said to have "very much feared and trembled." [Chron. of Thorne.]
Thunor's Leap was, according to Lewis, the old chalk-pit, which he supposes to have been first sunk when the Abbey and Church of Minstre were built, the bottom of which, in process of time, became overgrown with grass, when the crafty monks invented this fable to frighten the poor people of the neighbourhood. Immediately adjoining this spot formerly stood a beacon, it being some of the highest land in that locality, and it was here that King Egbert had taken up his position, in order that he might be able to see the deer run almost all the way. [Lewis.] "The Deer's Course," as it is called by the monks, was nothing more than a lynch or balk, cast up as a boundary, to divide the two capital manors of Minstre and Monkton, in the island, and very probably existed even before the former was granted to Domneva.
The tame deer of the Queen was to obtain for her royal mistress as much land as it could run over at a breath; the favourite animal having finished her course, from one side of the island to the other, and run over in length and breadth forty-eight plough lands (or ten thousand acres), followed the Lady Domneva, while the King, on his part, returned thanks to Christ Jesus, and surrendered to his illustrious cousin the whole tract of land which the deer had run over; St. Theodore, the devout Adrian, and others who were present, hallowing the gift with their blessing." [Thorne, Weever.] This donation Egbert afterwards confirmed to the ecclesiastical posterity of Domneva by charters, recorded in the book of St. Augustine's, [Weever had himself seen these charters, as he assures us in his work.] to the infringers of which he added a frightful curse.
Domneva accordingly founded her new minster, dedicating it to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and to the name and honour of her murdered brethren. [Butler, Weever.] A difference of opinion exists as to the exact date of the foundation, some saying it was commenced in 664 and completed in 670, others that it was commenced only at the latter year. [Dugdale, Thorne. Leland is wide of the mark in naming 596, and also Speed, who says Queen Ermenburga (or Dompneva) lived A.D. 590; these dates would, as Dugdale remarks, have been long before her time.] It has again been doubted whether Queen Domneva herself ever ruled the establishment. Drayton says she passed the residue of her days—
Immonaster'd in Kent, where first she breathed the air;"
yet we afterwards trace her as president of another religious community in Mercia. It is, however, highly probable that on the completion of the structure, Domneva superintended it until the arrival of her daughter, St. Mildred, who had been sent to France, to the Monastery of Chelles, for her education, that she might be fitly prepared to govern the edifice of her mother's foundation. [The Church of Minster is the most ancient structure in the island of Thanet, and has three aisles: in the choir are eighteen collegiate stalls; on the floor of the church, and under the porch, are several large fiat gravestones, of very great antiquity; on the top of the spire of the steeple was formerly a globe, above which rose a cross, covered with lead, and upon this a vane, surmounted by a cross of iron, emblem of the power and superiority of Christianity over the earth; but these fancied monuments of idolatry were removed in the year 1647, by one Calmer, a rigid Calvinist, who had obtained the sequestration of the living by the refusal of Dr. Casaubon to take the covenant.—Dugdale. Minster was sometimes called St. Mildred's Monastery.——Weever.] All things being made ready for her, Mildred was sent for, as the person most fit for the situation of abbess; and on her arrival the Mercian Princess was consecrated to that holy office by Theodore, Archbishop of Canterbury, having previously taken the veil at the Monastery of Chelles. Seventy young women at the same time received the nun's veil, to form a community for their royal mistress, having been selected either from birth or merit. Among the number was Ermengitha, the aunt of Mildred, who was afterwards so much renowned for piety that her tomb, about a mile distant from the monastery, became a favourite resort for devout pilgrims. [Lives of Saints.]
Mildred behaved with so much humility amongst her followers and pupils, as rather to make herself their servant than their mother and mistress; for she desired more to be loved than to be feared; and much more effectually brought her sisters on the way of religious perfection by her example than by her authority. [Spelman.] This abbess was celebrated as a saint after her death, and in her honour two parish churches in London were dedicated, St. Mildred's in the Poultry and St. Mildred's in Breadstreet. According to Wilson's English Martyrology, St. Mildred died in 674; but this is an error, for she was not till after that Abbess of Minster, and her name is to be found subscribed in the Council of Beckenham, A.D. 694. [Hist. of the Church of Great Britain, 1674.] This great council was held by Withred, King of Kent, and Berthwald, Archbishop of Canterbury, and in it many things were concluded in favour of the Church. Five Kentish abbesses were present on the occasion, and not only subscribed their names and crosses to the constitutions concluded therein, but their subscriptions were placed not only before and above all presbyters, but also above that of Botred, a bishop present in the council. These abbesses' names are worthy of record; they were Mildred, Etheldreda, te, Wilnolde, and Hereswide.
That writing was a female accomplishment in the Saxon times, appears from a letter to St. Boniface from Leobgitha, a nun of St. Mildred's Monastery under Eadburga, sister of Domneva, the Abbess who succeeded Mildred. From Leobgitha's letter, it seems that it was customary for the nuns not only to read but to write Latin: she concludes her letter by saying, "Beneath are some verses which I have striven to compose according to the rules of poetic tradition, not with confident boldness offering them, but desiring to excite your superior mind, and ask your aid. This art I learned from the institution of Eadburga, who ceaselessly versifies the sacred law." The following is a translation of the lines in question by a modern author of talent:[Miss Lawrence. See "Records of Women of England."]
"Oh may the Almighty, all-creating King,
Who in his Father's kingdom shines in light
Ineffable, to thee aye safety bring,
And grant thee endless joys in glory bright."
Golden ink was used by the Anglo-Saxons, and sometimes silver ink. Their red ink was made of vermillion or cinnabar; sometimes manuscripts were written with purple ink, and capital letters with an ink composed of vermillion and gum. The black ink used by the Saxons in England during the eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries, preserved its original blackness much better than that used in succeeding ages.
Eadburga was abbess of St. Mildred's Minster from the death of that princess till the year 751; and to her many of the letters of Boniface are addressed. This venerable prelate, who was a native of Wessex, had been sent over as a missionary into Germany, to preach to the idolaters there; Eadburga watched over him with a solicitude truly maternal, and the excellent Boniface exhibits in his correspondence with the royal abbess every token of esteem and respect. In one of his letters he styles her "the most honorable maiden, and most beloved Lady Eadburga, distinguished for the wisdom of her monastic government." [Bonifacii Epist.] In one of the earliest epistles, Boniface styles himself "an humble deacon," and solicits the lady-abbess to accept some cinnamon and frankincense, and a silver pen. [Lawrence's Hist. of Woman.] In the 28th of this collection of Boniface's letters, also addressed to Eadburga, the Bishop entreats her to write the Epistles of St. Peter in letters of gold, "to inspire carnal men with the greater respect to that apostle," whom he calls the patron of his mission.
St. Eadburga built a new church in honor of St. Peter and St. Paul, and as soon as it was completed, caused the body of St. Mildred to be translated into it. [Butler, Brit. Sancta.] It was, together with that of Eadburga, in 1055, translated to Canterbury, where they were deposited in St. Gregory's Church, by Archbishop Lanfranc. [A deed of King Edward the Confessor, confirming certain privileges to the Church of St. Augustine, at Canterbury, runs thus:—
"Wherefore, I, Edward, king, by the grace of the King of Kings, and prince of the Angles, after long banishment being returned to my kingdom, by the will of the only compassionating God, and sitting again on the throne of my fathers, do grant and decree that the church which King Ethelbert, at the advice of the blessed Augustine, founded in honour of the Apostles Peter and Paul, and enriched with gifts, in which the bodies of the King himself, and of all the Bishops of Canterbury, and of the Kings, might be placed, be free, with all its appendages and adjacencies; seeing that, indeed, in the same church the above-named King lies buried, and the virgin Mildreth, beloved of God, rests, begotten of his stock. I also, being sprung of the same king's stock, and, by God's help, possessed of his kingdom, do deliver up the isle of Thanet, which King Egbert granted, by hereditary right, to the venerable Queen Domneva (to the mother, to wit, of St. Mildreth, as much as a hind had gone over in its course, for the slaying of her two brothers, Ethelbred and Ethelbert, whom, by order of the same king, Thunur, hateful to God, struck down by an unjust death, whom forthwith celestial vengeance terribly followed by cutting him off."—Thorne's Chronicle.]
According to some writers, St. Mildred's Monastery was entirely destroyed by the Danes in 978, but another account, given by Thorne, fixes its destruction in the year 1011, at the time of Sweyn's invasion.
Mildgitha, the sister of Mildred, retired to the Monastery of Eastry, not far from Canterbury, which Egbert had himself built to atone for his crimes. [Butler's Lives.] At a subsequent period Eastry, the manor of which Egbert had vested in the Church, was given to Christ Church, Canterbury, by Ethelred the Unready, for the support of the monks' kitchen. [A.D. 979, Philipott.] An ancient tradition affirms, that the altar-tomb, placed at the east end of the little chapel which belonged to Eastry Court, was the sepulchre in which the bones of the two murdered brothers of Queen Domneva were enshrined, and over which a light constantly hovered.
The three sisters, Mildred, Mildgitha, and Milburga, foundress of the Abbey of Wenlock, in Shropshire, were all canonized.
The body of King Merowald, which had been enclosed in a wall of the church of the Abbey of Wenlock, was found at the same time as that of his daughter, Milburga. [Philipps, Bromton, Drayton.] Domneva, who is called "the virtuous mother of three virgin saints," had only one son by Merowald, who did not survive his infancy; so that his crown devolved on his younger brother Mercelyn, son of Penda, who likewise dying without issue male, the little kingdom of Herefordshire became re-united to the powerful territory of Mercia.
Queen Domneva survived her husband many years, and is frequently mentioned by our historians. Besides the Monastery of Minster, this Queen was foundress of a nunnery at Ebbsfleet, in the isle of Thanet; [Speed, Tanner, Dugdale.] but it was at Gloucester that she spent her remaining years after her widowhood.